Strangers to Santa Catarina are frustrated by what they regard as the idleness of the local people. Their opinion is only enhanced by the behaviour of the villagers who appear, to the strangers, to be cultivating and wallowing in this idleness as an act of deliberate provocation.
To be standing outside the Post Office at nine o’clock, which is the advertised opening time, and to watch the woman who works there give them a quick glance, before walking into the café to take a cup of coffee, is humiliating. To finally gain entrance at ten minutes past nine and still have to wait a further five minutes, as settling-in arrangements are completed, makes them feel as though they are being roundly ignored on purpose. This leads to frostiness on their part, and coolness on hers, which leaves them hot and bothered back out on the pavement, wondering whether they have the resolve to attempt any more tasks that day. It becomes creeping paranoia, if they do, that the woman in the Post Office is somehow in league with the man in the hardware shop, who serves all the locals first, then walks out the back and doesn’t reappear until he is sure that they have left.
It could all be avoided of course.
A local would not dream of going to the Post Office at that time, but would factor in the five minutes natural tardiness, and the five minutes coffee-drinking time.
The man in the hardware shop is actually quite a shy person, and it is only his prodigious knowledge of his trade that gives him the confidence to deal with the public. Faced with an enquiry in garbled Portuguese which he has trouble understanding flusters him, and a lot of hand movements that he also has difficulty interpreting dent his confidence and make him retreat to his lair in nervousness.
He eventually decides to employ a boy who speaks English and his situation is eased somewhat at first, but the increasing amount of language that is wholly incomprehensible to him takes away all the pleasure that he once had running the shop. He lets the boy go home for lunch but bows to the pressures of the modern world and doesn’t close up like he used to. He keeps a half-eaten sandwich with him as he sits hiding in the back room so that if he is called out he can appear with the sandwich. If the customer is local he’ll put down the sandwich and serve. If it is a foreigner he’ll gesture with the sandwich, pretend that his mouth is full and retreat into the back room until the stranger has gone. This life of subterfuge and his general nervous condition will lead him to die of a heart attack at the age of fifty-six.
The Café Central is busy at lunchtime as the workers come down to eat a cheap meal washed down with a jug of rough wine. The strangers, still exasperated by their morning endeavours are about to be thwarted again. One of them goes in to order drinks. Why is it that he seems to be standing at the bar for hours waving around a note, while the barman keeps producing drinks and carrying out plates of food for people who were surely not here before him? A man slams his empty beer bottle on the table and is taken another. Eventually the barman comes up and looks at him, unsmiling. The order is given. The barman looks a bit confused and makes a coffee for the lady who’s just walked in – it’s her from the Post Office. He plonks some bottles and glasses on the bar and the stranger waves his hands around. A man comes in for a brandy and the barman pours it. He goes back reluctantly to the stranger and they finally come to an agreement about what is wanted. The stranger takes the drinks out to the terrace and moans about the sullen, lazy bastard to his friends. The barman wishes that so much time hadn’t been wasted, but calmly collects empty plates from tables, brings out more food from the kitchen, lines up coffees, pours brandies for those whose after lunch tastes run in that direction, and makes jovial chat with the youngsters who come in to buy ice lollies on their way back to school.
He doesn’t smile because he’s embarrassed that he hasn’t got any front teeth left.
Just an observation.